Children’s university Gives Youngsters Appetite for Tertiary Learning

There are no lectures at this university — but plenty of nature walks, craft, museum trips and a graduation held in a cave.

Primary school students from the regional town of Naracoorte, in South Australia, have become the first in the area to graduate from Children’s University, a program run by the University of Adelaide to encourage learning outside the classroom.

Graduates have completed 30-65 hours of extracurricular activities, logging their time in a special learning “passport” to be stamped for approval by their teachers.

Naracoorte Primary School teacher Felicity McArthur said the program had given the young students an appetite for more tertiary-style learning.

“The kids can’t just say that they’ve been to a place, they have to actually justify what they’ve learnt,” she said.

“Lots of them are really motivated after the first graduation — they felt so special in their gowns.

“Some of the children who are really quiet and shy have started to blossom.”

Three children sit next to each other on playground stairs. Two are holding the tassels from their caps, one a learning diary.

Students drive learning

Children’s University was introduced to South Australia in 2013 and is also active in Tasmania and New South Wales.

While the program already operates in 80 South Australian schools, it has taken longer to spread to regional parts of the state.

Three primary schools in Naracoorte adopted the program for first time this year, producing 53 graduates between them.

“I was very surprised, I had a lot more students register their interest than what I thought I was going to have,” coordinator Tracy Hahn, who works at Naracoorte and Naracoorte South primary schools, said.

“I think we’re the first [in SA] outside Adelaide to do it.”

Students drive their own learning under the program by choosing the activities they wish to count towards their hours — but can use no more than 10 from a single category, such as sport or music.

Ms Hahn said her students were able to count experiences such as visiting museums when they travelled to the city, but also discovered some educational treasures in their own backyard.

“A lot of students didn’t realise we’ve got a historical walk around town, for example, that they were able to count.

“We had students take part in an art workshop, visit [an historical] woolshed and cemetery at Hynam — a lot of students visited Bool Lagoon.

“Some went to coding club, some went to science club.

“They’ll talk about what they’ve learnt and where they’ve gone and share that knowledge with their peers.”

Students wearing black gowns and mortar boards walk down a stairway into a cave.

Miniature mortar-boards

Graduation, held in a local cave, was complete with miniature mortar-boards and black gowns that the students wore onto the stage to accept their certificates.

“We’re still basking in the glory of having our students graduate and being on that high,” Ms Hahn said.

Year 6 student Ella, from Naracoorte Primary School, tried her hand at woodwork during the project, building a cookbook stand in between logging hours for sport and musical activities.

“That was a new thing for me that I had learnt so I found that pretty cool,” she said.

“It was difficult but it got easier.”

She had her sights set on going to “adult” university, most likely to study teaching, after finishing school and said the program had helped inspire her.

“You find out that there are lots of things that you can learn and it never stops.”

Chad, Year 4, said his favourite part of the program was wearing the graduation clothes but he also enjoyed the learning.

“It makes you smarter,” he said.

“I like going to new places because it gives me more hours and means I can do more activities.”

A group of children in black gowns through their mortar-boards in the air in celebration. They are holding certificates.